14 August, 2017
My journey started very early in 2010 with my first visit to the doctor. I was told it was just a bad back so I had the day off work. Within a few weeks I was having more of an urgency when going to the toilet and still had a mystery ‘back pain’ that wasn’t in my back. The long walks along the beach and in the countryside that I enjoy were now being affected because of my need to be near a toilet. Reluctantly, I went back to the doctor again and my problems were diagnosed as piles and I was advised to try cream then, when that didn’t work, suppositories.
By June I had to stop cycling as it was getting too uncomfortable. My doctor put me on stronger prescription suppositories, but the mystery pain was still there. A physiotherapist was the first to put the clues together, asking if I’d lost weight and referring me back to my GP. I was booked in for a colonoscopy. They didn’t expect to find anything and it was suggested if it was clear the problems may ‘all be in my mind’. I remember on the day before the colonoscopy in January 2011 we had a training day at work and nobody could understand why I was only sipping at a glass of water and not gorging on the free buffet lunch as normal. At this stage I didn’t really share my problems.
I took the sedation offered for the colonoscopy so don’t remember much about it, but I do remember waking and hearing the nurses telling others around me to get dressed, have a cup of tea and a biscuit and go home. However, the nurse came to me and just said somebody would be there to talk to me in a minute so I was starting to guess something was not right. I was taken to a small meeting room by a nurse who told me they would have to wait for the biopsies to confirm it, but they had found something that they believed to be a bowel cancer tumour.
It seemed a huge step the next day to go into work and say out loud to my boss: “I have cancer“ but once said, all my work colleagues were nothing but supportive. The doctor who had performed the colonoscopy confirmed the cancer and was the first to tell me I would most likely need a stoma and it would probably be permanent. The next meeting was with my surgeon who went through the plans for me: a course of radio/chemotherapy to shrink the tumour; then surgery, hopefully that would sort it out; with the option of a second round of chemo, if needed, at the end. My radio/chemotherapy was 30 sessions over six weeks. I’d never known anyone that had been through it before, so taking that first chemo tablet was another scary moment. I really didn’t know what to expect; it was a big relief that my hair didn’t fall out on the spot.
A few weeks after treatment I met my stoma nurse who showed me some colostomy bags. I’m not sure what I was expecting, but it wasn’t a bag with a hole in it stuck on like a plaster. A few weeks later the stoma that saved my life was formed. Luckily for me it is a fairly well-behaved stoma that allows to live my life without too many restrictions.